Egypt To Try 43 NGO Workers in Funding Case

Posted February 5th, 2012 at 12:35 pm (UTC-5)
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Egyptian investigative judges have referred 43 people, including 19 U.S. citizens, to trial before a criminal court for their alleged involvement in the banned activities of pro-democracy groups that received what Cairo calls “illegal foreign funding.”

A statement issued Sunday by the judges overseeing the probe listed at least one of the charges as “running organizations without the required licenses.”

A judicial spokesman said those referred to trial include five Serbs, two Germans, three Arab nationals and an unspecified number of Egyptians. Among the 19 Americans is Sam LaHood, head of the Egypt office of the International Republican Institute and the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

All 43 have also been banned from leaving the country. A date for the start of the trial has yet to be set.

The Obama administration has strongly criticized Egypt's crackdown on the non-governmental organizations, three of which are based in Washington. An unspecified number of Americans involved have sought shelter at the U.S. embassy.

On Saturday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned her Egyptian counterpart the dispute may lead to the loss of more than $1.3 billion in annual military aid to Cairo. But Foreign Minister Mohamed Amr responded Sunday by saying the government cannot interfere in the work of the judiciary.

The investigation into the NGOs is closely linked with the political turmoil that has engulfed Egypt since the ouster nearly a year ago of former president Hosni Mubarak, a close U.S. ally who ruled Egypt for almost 30 years.

The military generals who took power after Mr. Mubarak's fall have accused “foreign hands” of orchestrating the protests against their rule and often say the demonstrators are receiving funds from abroad to destabilize the country.

Egyptian authorities carried out 17 raids on the NGO offices in December, confiscating everything from cell phones, documents and computers to safes, desks and money. Despite assurances given to U.S. officials, two of the organizations said that as of last month, no property or cash had been returned.

Egyptian civil society groups say the ruling military council ordered the raids to harass activists at the forefront of the anti-Mubarak revolt who have since been pressing for the army to swiftly hand power to civilians.

In a letter sent last week to Clinton and U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, 41 members of the U.S. Congress urged the Obama administration to withhold further aid to Egypt until the organizations are allowed to reopen and all seized property returned.

The letter also called for an end to the judicial probe and that the NGOs be allowed to resume their work.